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February 6, 2009

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

by Toby Young

I may be several years late with this one, but cut me some slack – I’m a slow reader. When I saw the trailer recently for the movie adaptation (starring Simon Pegg), I thought it sounded like a good read.

Quite how Toby Young, a Fleet Street hack, ends up landing a job at Vanity Fair in New York is still a bit of a mystery, but nevertheless it’s an opportunity he grabs with both hands. He has a romanticised view of New York journalists as hard-hitting, no-nonsense, bourbon-swilling characters and harbours ambitions of taking Manhattan by storm. And as a Brit in New York, the ladies are bound to come running, right?

Not quite. It’s clear from day one on the new job at Vanity Fair, when told to dress casual he turns up in T-shirt and jeans, that his sojourn in NYC is going to be something of a disaster. How to Lose Friends charts Toby Young’s fall from a top job at Conde Nast’s flagship publication, during which time he appears hell-bent on antagonising anyone who’ll listen. He offers a fascinating insight into the world of glamour jornalism and celebrity culture – think Ugly Betty meets Devil Wears Prada. He is observant and witty, often cringeworthingly funny. Embarrassingly for me, it’s hard not to identify with him at times (am I the only one who laughs at my jokes?).

All in all a very funny read which reveals the extent to which Britain and the US are culturally different. And his time spent in NYC can’t have been all that disastrous if he managed to squeeze a book (and a movie) out of it, right?

James’ out-of-five star rating: ***

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